While here in Australia, the month of May sees us bringing out our winter woollies, in Bombay, May meant SUMMER.
And the height of summer meant school holidays – freedom from the burden of books for two whole months; enough time to accommodate all the childhood shenanigans and tomfoolery we could think up. At 9am, the neighbourhood kids would congregate and the games would begin - Seven Tiles, Dabba Gool, Chor Police, Itti Kitti Gotta. Sweating it out in 37-degree heat, bickering and brawling over whose ‘den’ it was, spending our pocket money on ice-cream, sweeties and “pepsi” (no, not the drink, but a kind of slushie filled into narrow plastic pouches). A break for lunch (gobbled down) would be followed by some ‘down-time’ to allow the grandparents to catch their siestas while we exchanged comics and music tapes… Tea time signalled the start of the next session of play, but by 7pm all the masti and mayhem would cease. The Rosary would begin.
Since the month of May was devoted to Our Lady, the Rosary was recited by Catholics at various Crosses all over Bandra. Each decade would be interspersed with hymns like ‘Hail Queen of Heaven’ led by wavering-voiced aunties. As if that wasn’t enough, the Litany would follow – a whole host of saints invoked to which everyone had to reply “Pray for us”, but which we transformed into “Pray fast”; our patience would wear thin as all pious thoughts turned to the boiled gram and wafers soon to be served. This month of rosaries culminated in the Cross Feast held on May 31st. May flowers, the bright orange-red blooms of the gulmohar tree, adorned each Cross, and everyone joined in the pomp and pageantry.
Another must-have for May was mangoes. My dad would buy an entire crate of Aphoos mangoes, the king of them all. Our anticipation was only heightened by the warm scent of them ripening beneath the hay. Juice trickled down our forearms as we sunk our teeth into their sweet, succulent cheeks. Competitions with cousins were held to see who could suck the bata (seed) bone dry. And if your house happened to have a mango tree, you’d be sure to find boys taking aim at the ripening fruit with their ‘catties’ (catapults). The wrath of the old uncles standing guard was no match for the thrill of getting to eat kairi (raw mangoes) rubbed with a dash of salt and chilli powder.